Many of King County’s top crops are having a tough time this COVID-impacted year.
That includes newcomers like industrial hemp — not faring well a year after a boom in new plantings spread across both the US and here too.
Deputy ag commissioner Mario Gutierrez says last year Kings County saw plantings of over 600 acres of hemp. But this year at the same time, plantings are down to just 90 acres countywide.
”There was a rush last year with high hopes," says Gutierrez, but low market prices have dampened that enthusiasm.
Kings County officials say the 2019 crop report should be available by the end of this month, although it is a year behind what is happening now.
This summer many of the county’s major crops are suffering low prices. That includes cotton, once king of Kings County.
The state CDFA reports that California cotton acreage in 2020 is expected to be down around 30% from last year.
The current total mapped acreage is 171,170 acres (down from 243,795 acres in 2019). The breakdown of cotton acreage is 34,945 acres in Fresno County (down from 69,615 acres in 2019), 10,825 acres in Kern County (down from 18,240 acres in 2019), 86,705 acres in Kings County (down from 98,415 acres in 2019), 440 acres in Madera County (down from 935 acres in 2019), 31,665 acres in Merced County (down from 41,690 acres in 2019), and 6,590 acres in Tulare County (down from 14,815 acres in 2019).
Of all the counties, Kings County appears to be down the least. It’s a far cry from fence-row to fence-row acreage seen in 1979 — almost 300,000 acres.
The ongoing trade war between China and the United States has been a factor in helping collapse cotton prices to a ten-year low in 2020.
Processing tomato growers agreed recently to $80 a ton price from processors for their 2020 crop. According to growers, this is just about the cost of production given today’s higher costs.
The California Processing Tomato Association offered this perspective this summer.”Recent softer market conditions are a result of slowing global demand for processed tomato products, decreased California exports, and increasing processing capacity. California tomato exports increased from 8% of total annual movement in 2009 to more than 17% in 2014. California production and processor capacity also expanded. Since 2014, California exports have fallen by 30 percent, and are now around 12% of total annual movement. Over the same period, per capita tomato consumption and global demand has been flat. As a result, California processing capacity utilization has decreased. This put downward pressure on price.”
Yield has been flat since 2012 says the association. Kings County is the third largest county for processing tomatoes at 27,000 acres, well behind Fresno County.
Kings lost a major processor when Lemoore-based Olam shut down last year. It won't operate this year. Grower production costs are increasing, says the association. The main drivers of higher costs over the next 3 to 5 years include the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and labor.
After years of low returns, Kings dairymen caught a break for the past six months despite nationwide COVID concerns. Prices for some dairy commodities were record high earlier this summer but now they appear to be heading south as fast as they had traveled north.
Trade group California Milk Producers say the months of better times saw operators adding to their herds but in the past week Class 111 milk futures “fell off a cliff” for September dropping from $21 per cwt to $16 as volatility appears to be the name of the game. With little back to school demand in the offing, dairy farmers face an uncertain future this year.
Another victim of trade wars are almonds, walnuts and pistachios, the boom crops of recent years, each with plenty of new trees in the ground. However, this summer there is a glut of product, a huge almond crop, as COVID and the international trade war has hurt nut exports.The U.S. exports the most tree nuts but due to Chinese retaliatory tariffs and the virus, demands are way down as are prices.
This past week The Almond Alliance of California convinced the USDA to include almonds in their Section 32 food purchase program to the tune of $40 million.The Alliance notes that “grower prices continue to drop and there is an anticipated 3-billion-pound crop for 2020 it is clear that the assistance of a USDA commodity purchase came at a critical time.”
Almond prices that were $3/lb a year ago are half that today. Walnuts are a similar story.
Pistachios are also expected to be a huge 1 billion pound crop this year and one estimate predicts prices to drop to about $2.30 to $2.40 a pound this season from $2.60 in 2019.
Chickens are instilling a bit more optimism.
Both Foster Farms and Pitman Family Farms are expanding their flocks in Kings County by the millions, both offering organic and conventional product. Foster Farms won the bidding on 19 ranches put up for auction from bankrupt Zacky Farms, mostly in Kings and Fresno counties last year under court proceedings Both companies are seeking permits to expand and build new ranches in the county. Demand for chicken appears to be strong.
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